Caring for children with disabilities
Happy Family Center for Children with Disabilities
>> HapFam enters its 3rd year of operations in Paynesville, Liberia
>> HapFam receives Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW) small grant for general support
>> Andre Johnson, a HapFam student, was a special guest at the signing ceremony of the new Reform Education Act, which was attended by the president of Liberia
>> HapFam hires new Administrative Director
In the classroom:
- To stimulate children with disabilities (CWDs) and develop their social skills in contact with other children
- To give to CWDs the opportunity to learn how to be independent the activities of daily life
- To educate CWDs with the help of special instructors
- To include the families in the goal setting and assessment process for each student.
- To provide the primary caregiver a respite from the stresses of caring for a child with many needs – they may use this time to rest, to focus on the home or other family members, or to seek income generation activities.
In the home:
- Performing regular visits to gain a sense of how the student is treated in his or her home environment
- Counsel the families on how to treat the child correctly and include him or her in family activities
- Provide support for families who are struggling under the stress or perceived burden of caring for a child with special needs
In the community:
- Educate families and communities on appropriate treatment of people living with disabilities in order to address the issues of isolation and stigmatization
- Advocate for the inclusion of children with disabilities throughout Liberia
- Assist in transitioning a student to a “regular school” where appropriate
- Create a model that can be recreated to meet similar needs throughout Liberia
Although there is no current data available for Liberia, a 1997 pilot survey sponsored by UNICEF and carried out by the Center for the Rehabilitation of the Injured and Disabled (CRID) found that more than 16% of the Liberian population lives with a disability.
Of this population, 61% were found to be physically disabled, 23.9% visually impaired, 6.8% deaf and 8.3% mentally handicapped.
Today, it is estimated that these numbers have grown due to the civil war. The vast majority of disabled Liberians are excluded from schools and opportunities to work, and the social stigma associated with disability results in marginalization and isolation.
While the Government of Liberia is rebuilding public systems of education, social welfare and health care delivery, only a handful organizations cater to the needs of children with disabilities. There is, however, a pervasive lack of support for families or communities caring for these children with specific needs, as noted in the National Social Welfare Strategy Paper (2008).
Many disabled children end up institutionalized in orphanages. UNMIL’s Human Rights Division notes that “children living in orphanages are denied basic rights ranging from the right to development and health and the right to identity, family, education, leisure, and participation in cultural activities.”
Read more about the lack of services for children with disabilities in Liberia
It is in this context that The Niapele Project is supporting a unique community-based effort: the Happy Family Center for Children with Disabilities (HapFam). HapFam, founded and managed by former refugees, is one of Liberia’s only community-based initiatives that offers children with disabilities and their families appropriate support, services and assistance.The Center offers the children a respite from a community where they are often marginalized due to their handicaps.
Focusing on developing their strengths in a supportive and encouraging environment, songs and games are used to build skills and supplement physical therapy. The children, their families and the staff have all taken an active role in the development of the Center and in improving the lives of the students.
HapFam is the continuation in Liberia of the Harmony Children's Center, which was first founded at the Buduburam refugee settlement in Ghana by parents of children with disabilities under the guidance of French physiotherapist, Elise Nerault.
(Right: Andre, now a student at HapFam, playing a game at the Harmony Center in the Buduburam refugee settlement in 2008 - read his story here.)
After seeing the positive impact the Center had in providing the children with a safe and encouraging environment in which to play and learn, the parents and children alike became very attached to the Center, and strong bonds were formed between the students, staff and families.
Read more about the Harmony Center in Ghana and other past initiatives here
Returning to Liberia to rebuild their lives meant that the parents had to make a choice between the best interests of their families and livelihoods, and access to a center for their children with special needs. Despite all that had to be left behind at the refugee camp, for many residents of Buduburam, returning to Liberia was the only option.
Three of the five founding parents of the Harmony Children’s Center soon discovered that they lived in the same area with their children who had been classmates. Facing the lack of appropriate services for the education of their children in Liberia, they’ve decided to recreate the opportunity to thrive that these children enjoyed as refugees at the Harmony Children’s Center. Using their experience and knowledge and assessing the needs in the local community, the parents created the Happy Family Center for Disabled Children as place to nurture and stimulate their children and others.
HapFam provides appropriate learning and support for children who are not currently catered to in the national public school system, while reaching out to families and communities of children with special needs. Some of these children will be able to make the transition and integrate in a regular school, while others’ achievements may be more limited based on abilities and disabilities. However, all have the opportunity to participate in society and break the cycle of marginalization that typically affects them.
The mission of the Happy Family Center for Children with Disabilities remains the same as its predecessor:
"To help to improve the physical and mental development as well as the well-being of disabled children in Liberia."
The design of the program supports the rights of the children with disabilities in Liberia, and is an affirmation of the rights found in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Each of the above conventions call for overcoming discrimination and recognizing the right to full participation of children with disabilities – in their homes, communities, and schools, as well as health services, recreation activities and in all other aspects of life.
About the children
- The children of HapFam have a wide range of personal strengths and special needs. The staff tailors goals for daily learning activities (dressing, washing, and eating) to each student’s capabilities, and then designs exercises to help reach these goals.
- HapFam also focuses on socialization with their peers, physical exercises, and a more traditional school session in order to study reading, counting and writing.
- The children vary in capabilities and needs, but they all share an enthusiasm for the time they spend together at HapFam. Many sat at home for years, watching siblings and neighbors attend school, and now they beam with pride at the opportunity to don their own school uniform.
- The nurturing environment allows them to try new tasks and have an outlet for their energy and affection, and the children have thrived through this opportunity.
- As of February 2010, HapFam has identified and enrolled 14 children in the Center. HapFam welcomes these children five days a week, in their newly renovated center located in Paynesville.
Niapele & HapFam
1. Capacity Building and Supporting Organizational Development
Central to our mission is to assist our partner organizations maximize their potential to allow them to effectively fulfill their vision. As with its other partners, The Niapele Project is helping HapFam develop and use the necessary financial, strategic and operational tools to enable the small community-based organization fulfill its objectives.
2. Financial Support
The Niapele Project is providing a fixed, monthly budget for HapFam to pay their staff and purchase the items necessary to carry out their work. We offer this support so that the Center can focus its time, energy and resources on developing its organizational capacity and its ability to serve the needs of disabled children, but with the intention of strengthening the organization's ability to seek funding locally and to develop income-generating strategies.